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The Anatomy Lesson Paperback – January 30, 1996

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Editorial Reviews


"The Anatomy Lesson is a ferocious, heartfelt book...lavish with laughs and flamboyant inventions." —John Updike, The New Yorker

"Roth has a genius for the comedy of entrapment.... [He] writes America's most raucously funny novels." —Time

"One of Roth's most unsparing and revealing books...forceful and startling." —Newsday

From the Inside Flap

At forty, the writer Nathan Zuckerman comes down with a mysterious affliction?pure pain, beginning in his neck and shoulders, invading his torso, and taking possession of his spirit. Zuckerman, whose work was his life, is unable to write a line. Now his work is trekking from one doctor to another, but none can find a cause for the pain and nobody can assuage it. Zuckerman himself wonders if the pain can have been caused by his own books. And while he is wondering, his dependence on painkillers grows into an addiction to vodka, marijuana, and Percodan.

The Anatomy Lesson
is a great comedy of illness written in what the English critic Hermione Lee has described as "a manner at once...brash and thoughtful... lyrical and wry, which projects through comic expostulations and confessions...a knowing, humane authority." The third volume of the trilogy and epilogue Zuckerman Bound, The Anatomy Lesson provides some of the funniest scenes in all of Roth's fiction as well as some of the fiercest.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (January 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679749020
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679749028
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #688,140 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

In the 1990s Philip Roth won America's four major literary awards in succession: the National Book Critics Circle Award for Patrimony (1991), the PEN/Faulkner Award for Operation Shylock (1993), the National Book Award for Sabbath's Theater (1995), and the Pulitzer Prize in fiction for American Pastoral (1997). He won the Ambassador Book Award of the English-Speaking Union for I Married a Communist (1998); in the same year he received the National Medal of Arts at the White House. Previously he won the National Book Critics Circle Award for The Counterlife (1986) and the National Book Award for his first book, Goodbye, Columbus (1959). In 2000 he published The Human Stain, concluding a trilogy that depicts the ideological ethos of postwar America. For The Human Stain Roth received his second PEN/Faulkner Award as well as Britain's W. H. Smith Award for the Best Book of the Year. In 2001 he received the highest award of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, the Gold Medal in Fiction, given every six years "for the entire work of the recipient." In 2005 The Plot Against America received the Society of American Historians Award for "the outstanding historical novel on an American theme for 2003--2004." In 2007 Roth received the PEN/Faulkner Award for Everyman.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of my favorite works by Roth. It has everything that you would expect to find in a great Roth book such as humor, amazing prose that just swallows you up, and brilliant insights. The book follows Nathan Zuckerman on his quest to relieve himself from excruciating neck and back pain that has pretty much left him lying on his back in his apartment. That's all the set-up Roth needed to send you off on a comical and psychological quest with Zuckerman to find out what is wrong with him and cure it. Is it an actual physical problem or is it caused by some psychological guilt over his scandalous novel that ostracized him from his family? This is my favorite book of the Zuckerman trilogy.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Brad Hoevel on July 15, 2008
Format: Paperback
The Anatomy Lesson is everything you'd expect in a Nathan Zuckerman or Philip Roth novel. Though it doesn't top the exquisite beauty of Ghost Writer, it is an improvement over what I considered to be the lackluster Zuckerman Unbound.

Zuckerman's writer block has compounded and his life has grown exponentially more depraved since the last time we were with him. With the passing of his mother, Nathan Z. now feels guilty for the death of both of his parents. He hasn't spoken to his brother since the funeral. But worst of all, NZ is now bothered by a debilitating pain that has him confined to his New York loft. He self medicates with pills, grass, vodka, and c*nt. He's been to a dozen doctors and has received a dozen diagnoses. On top of all that he's going bald.

The written word alternates between introspective Zuckerman thinking about his life's problem and dealing with them in the aforementioned way. Eventually the idea comes into him to go back to school to become a doctor. He flies out to chicago where he takes on an alter ego and eventually ends up in the hospital after a drunken attempt at murder.

This book is not for everyone. Is it for you? Perhaps you've read some of Roth's work - Portnoy's Complaint, American Pastoral, etc - and you liked it enough to read more of the author's books. In that case, I suggest not only the Anatomy Lesson, but the entire Zuckerman BoundZuckerman Bound: A Trilogy and Epilogue 1979-1985: The Ghost Writer / Zuckerman Unbound / The Anatomy Lesson / The Prague Orgy (Library of America #175). This is a collection of four short novels plus a television script, for the price you would pay for about two novels.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By H. Schneider on September 8, 2013
Format: Paperback
No longer a son, no longer a writer. In volume 3 of the 'trilogy with epilogue' called 'Zuckerman Bound', Nathan Z has very serious writer's block, supported by extreme hypochondria.
He is 40 and has successfully published 4 novels. He has not one woman in his life now, but 4 women who do things for him. The number 4 suggests 'death' in Chinese. That must mean something.
Nathan is a bad head case. His parents are dead. His home land in New Jersey, on the West Bank of the Hudson, is lost to him. He is lost. He lost his appetite for writing. He has not lost his appetite for sex, but can't have relationships.

Has he written his scandalous fiction just as an act of war against his father? Now that his father is dead, what can he write? Mid life crisis hits him with doubts about himself and his achievements. Maybe his critics are right, after all? He fights a bitter war with one of them.
He returns to his student years in Chicago, reconstructs what he ran away from. He had tried to run away from his West Bank and ended up thinking of nothing else. He has illusions of being a student again. He suppresses his pains with painkillers, vodka and grass, which leads to endless verbal diarrhea and streams of vulgarity.

His attitude to women has become even worse. He wants simple functionality, but there is something suspect about women who hang around somebody like him. That sounds very much like a Woody Allen movie, doesn't it?
Human relations are not his forte. It is impossible to see any redeeming feature in this moral cripple. He agrees. His imaginary pain works towards achieving his mental cripple status also in the physical world.

This series thrives on literary references.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Ethan Cooper VINE VOICE on May 21, 2010
Format: Paperback
In THE ANATOMY LESSON, Nathan Zuckerman, the author of the notorious best-seller "Carnovksy" suffers from an incapacitating pain in the neck. "The muscle soreness he could manage, the tenderness, the tautness, the spasm, all of that he could take... but not this steadily burning thread of fire that went white-hot with the minutest bob or flick of the head."

Nathan has not written a good page of fiction since the death of his father three years before. Importantly his father considered "Carnovksy" to be thinly disguised ridicule of the Zuckerman family and their first-generation Jewish culture. And, on his deathbed, his father may have called Nathan a bastard. At least, that's what Henry, Nathan's competitive brother, and another family member offended by "Carnovksy", says he heard.

In TAL, Roth explores the connections between Nathan's pain and writer's block, his subject of conflict across generations, and his successful novel, which characters who are not family members describe as opening a fond "floodgate of memories" of Newark before World War II or as "one genial trick after another."

In doing so, Roth shows the self-medicating Nathan becoming enraged with Milton Appel, a distinguished magazine critic who shares Zuckerman's themes while claiming Nathan disparages Jews. Then, Roth shows Nathan unexpectedly recovering his hilarious and licentious Carnovksy-voice as he takes a trip to Chicago, where the Percodan-and-vodka-crazed Nathan presents himself as Milton Appel, a loathsome but brilliant pornographer.

In TAL, poor Nathan worries that he may have lost his subject, with the death of his parents and the disappearance of Jewish Newark.
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